The trip was almost over: a day in Venice, then a bus from the lagoon city back to the Italian mainland. To a campsite in the Marghera district, where overnight stays cost significantly less than near St. Mark’s Square or Rialto Bridge. Usually less than a quarter of an hour drive.

But then, just three kilometers from the destination, disaster struck: for an unknown reason, the bus carrying almost 40 day-trippers veered off the higher road on Tuesday evening and fell 15 meters into the depths. The result: at least 21 fatalities and 15 injured.

Three Germans are said to have died in the serious bus accident in Venice. This was reported by the Italian news agency Ansa, citing the responsible prefecture.

As is often the case these days, cell phone videos quickly make the rounds. They are images of horror: a view down from the bridge. There isn’t much left of the guardrails. The almost completely burnt out bus in the headlights. Only poorly covered corpses. In between is the Patriarch of Venice, Bishop Francesco Moraglia, who, standing alone, blesses the dead that night. In the words of Mayor Luigi Brugnaro: “An apocalypse.”

Many questions are still open

The day after, there are still many questions unanswered. Of the 21 dead, only nine had been identified as of late morning. According to the Italian authorities, at least five of them come from Ukraine. Because of the fire, it is feared that it could take a long time before the identities of all those who died are determined with certainty. At least one of the 15 injured has German citizenship. The others come from Ukraine, Spain, Austria, France and Croatia.

The driver of the bus, a 40-year-old Italian, was among the dead. Because it is unclear why the bus fell so suddenly from the bridge shortly after dark around 7:45 p.m., it is now of particular interest. According to colleagues, he was a reliable man with many years of professional experience. The bus belongs to a company called La Linea Spa and was chartered from a campsite in Marghera.

It is speculated that the driver may have lost control of the bus due to a seizure – or that he may have fallen asleep. The public prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation that night. Other possibilities are not ruled out either. The investigators hope to get information from a surveillance camera that keeps an eye on the traffic at this point on the approximately 70-year-old street. A camera in the modern electric bus may also have recorded the scene. The burnt-out wreck was still being searched for on Wednesday.

The bus company’s managing director, Massimo Fiorese, was quoted by Italian broadcaster Rai as saying: “What we know is that there is a fixed camera on the bridge. From what I saw in the pictures you can see the bus coming at less than 50 kilometers per hour. You see the brake lights flashing. So he braked. Then you see the vehicle leaning against the guardrail, tipping over and falling down.”

The vehicle is the shuttle bus of a campsite called HU. There are also normal hotel rooms and places for mobile homes on the site. Some young German tourists who stayed overnight there said on television on Tuesday evening: “We were supposed to take the next bus. But it didn’t come. And then we heard it. It’s a tragedy.”

It has long since become a habit for day-trippers from the mainland suburbs of Marghera or Mestre to commute to the old town. Both are separate districts of Venice, but are often referred to as the “ugly sisters”. You can sleep and eat much cheaper there. You can get to the lagoon with your own car, by train or by bus.

More than five million visitors per year

Some people in Venice don’t like that. The city – one of the most famous holiday destinations in the world – receives more than five million visitors every year. During high season, there are often more than 100,000 strangers in the city at the same time, most of them for just a few hours. For the first time next year, Venice wants to charge short-term vacationers who don’t stay overnight for admission on around 30 days: five euros per person.

But that’s just a minor matter the day after the disaster. The flags will fly at half-mast in front of state buildings on Wednesday. Mayor Brugnaro is receiving letters of condolence from all over the world. The 15 injured people are being cared for in hospitals throughout the region. Several are in intensive care. Rail traffic from the mainland towards the lagoon is now running normally again. And in the morning the HU campsite shuttle buses started operating again.

Meanwhile, authorities are having difficulty identifying the dead. “It is difficult to give the victims an identity. Many had no documents with them,” Venice prosecutor Bruno Cherchi told Italian television channel RaiNews24. According to Cherchi, some suspected relatives are already on site. But it is difficult to name them with certainty. He therefore instructed the forensic medicine department to carry out DNA tests if necessary to establish the identity with certainty. “However, we hope to be able to identify them all by tomorrow.” The public prosecutor’s office wants to hand over the bodies to the relatives as quickly as possible.